A Pirate’s Life in Sweden – by “Dennis H”

Gary Fung is no small potatoes, but the real big fish in the BitTorrent pond is The Pirate Bay. The Swedish site reached 25 million unique peers way back in November 2008, and now counts itself among the 80 largest websites on the entire Internet. Pirate Bay works just like any other BitTorrent site, allowing users to search the web for the newest torrent files of music, film, video games, and porn — but unlike other torrent sites, it has the good fortune to be stationed in the world capital of Internet piracy: Stockholm, Sweden.

Sweden: A Pirate’s Paradise

Pirate Bay founders Gottfrid Svartholm and Fredrik Neij never tire of pointing out the differences between Swedish copyright law and its American counterpart. One of their favorite forums for doing so is their own website, where they routinely post DMCA takedown notices they receive from American-based law firms, along with their own hilarious and colorful replies. In response to this DMCA takedown notice from the legal counsel of DreamWorks (TPB users had been pirating an unauthorized copy of Shrek 2), Svartholm, who goes by the web alias anakata, had this to say, in an email dated August 2004:

As you may or may not be aware, Sweden is not a state in the United States of America. Sweden is a country in Northern Europe. Unless you figured it out by now, US law does not apply here. For your information, no Swedish law is being violated.

Please be assured that any further contact with us, regardless of medium, will result in

(a) a suit being filed for harassment

(b) a formal complaint being filed with the bar of your legal counsel, for sending frivolous legal threats.

It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are ……. morons, and that you should please go sodomize yourself with retractable batons.

Please also note that your email and letter will be published in full on http://thepiratebay.org.

Go fuck yourself.

Clearly, anakata and the gang believed themselves for quite a long time to be living under a rather benevolent copyright regime. Elsewhere, in response to a takedown notice from EA (for an unauthorized copy of The Sims 2), anakata responds, in September 2004:

Hello and thank you for contacting us. We have shutdown the website in question.

Oh wait, just kidding. We haven’t, since the site in question is fully legal. Unlike certain other countries, such as the one you’re in, we have sane copyright laws here. But we also have polar bears roaming the streets and attacking people :-(.

As Napster, Grokster, SuprNova, and LokiTorrent began toppling in the United States in 2004 and 2005, TPB just kept firing off these off-color replies to DMCA takedown notices, boasting about the state of “sane” Swedish copyright and inviting American lawyers to sodomize themselves. Secure in the presumption of Swedish sanity, TPB executives had no reason to think themselves vulnerable.

But Then Things Got Real

In retrospect, anakata’s confidence in the Swedish government had reached its peak in the summer of 2004. In July 2005, the Swedes began enforcing anti-piracy laws under the European Union Copyright Directive, which had made it illegal to distribute software with the purpose of promoting copyright infringement. On May 31, 2006, Swedish police raided the Stockholm offices of anakata and friends, confiscating TPB servers and detaining three TPB associates for questioning on the suspicion of facilitating violations of copyright law. “The actions taken today in Sweden serve as a reminder to pirates all over the world that there are no safe havens for Internet copyright thieves,” said MPAA chairman Dan Glickman after the incident. (Note: To TPB’s credit, the site was up again three days later: a quicker recovery time than for other catastrophes of similar magnitude.)

A few years later, in 2009, Svartholm, Neij, and two other TPB executives found themselves in trial for promoting copyright infringement. The plaintiff was a consortium of intellectual property groups, chief among them the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). When all was said and done, the four pirates were sentenced to a year in prison and tagged with a fine of 30 million Swedish kroner. That’s a lot of bottles of rum.

The state of Swedish copyright remains unclear after that decision. All four TPB defendants have appealed the verdict, alleging bias on the part of judge Tomas Norstrom — the same judge who had ordered the raid on TPB servers three years earlier. Swedish media soon uncovered the fact that Norstrom had connections to several intellectual property organizations, through which he had previously become acquainted with several of the representatives for the entertainment industry.

Pirates in Politics

Whether or not the verdict is ultimately overturned, however, Sweden seems to have a strong grip on its status as cultural capital of Internet piracy. One remarkable indicator of the robust culture of Internet piracy in Sweden is the birth of the international Pirate Party movement — an up-and-coming group since its foundation in 2006. The Pirate Party is now officially registered in 18 countries, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France, and Canada. The Pirates control five city council seats in Germany, three municipal councilors in the Czech Republic, one city council seat in Switzerland, and — most importantly — two Swedish delegates to the European Parliament. The Piratpartiet stole more than 7 percent of the Swedish vote in the 2009 elections, winning the party its second seat and a strengthened claim to worldwide political legitimacy.

Amelia Andersdotter, now 23, assumed office in December of 2009, becoming the youngest member of the European Parliament. Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, and Blackbeard would all be proud.

On Dodd @ the MPAA and COICA – by “Bill T”

Rumor has it that Chris Dodd will be taking over the leadership of the MPAA’s policy operations, despite his claims (and the legal obligation) that he’d not become a lobbyist after leaving his 30 year time in the Senate.

The MPAA’s agenda last year ended in a wash, as the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act was stalled in the Senate. This bill would have made it easier for the government to shutdown websites which were “obviously” directed at distributing copyrighted material, though it also has the danger of unfairly targeting perfectly legitimate websites.

Dodd’s potential ascension leads me to wonder where the MPAA’s efforts will be directed next. Under interim leader, Bob Pisano, the priority has been very clear: stop piracy. The MPAA’s ardent support of the COICA is a clear reflection of that. But Dodd’s history as a legislator may indicate a much needed shift in the forthcoming MPAA legislative agenda. Dodd’s prior support of net neutrality is clearly at odds with the MPAA’s concern that a neutral internet is also a piracy-friendly internet.

Perhaps Dodd’s conflict with his potential future employers will lead both to consider a new approach to current issues in file sharing and copyright infringement. In focusing so much of its efforts on directly stopping filesharing, the MPAA has ignored the fact that the websites the COICA and other measures seek to eliminate are simply individual heads of a hydra, and without cauterizing the hydra’s wounds (by adapting to the new contours of the movie business), the problem simply won’t go away, and only the consumers will be left battered and bruised by overbroad protective measures.

The MPAA, and its counterparts in other industries need to understand that their industries have changed. They do not need to give up on the powers of copyright, but neither ought they hold on to the dominance of an increasingly obsolete top-down hierarchy. Regardless of the illegal origins of the new attitude toward creative works, consumers are simply no longer willing to pay nearly as much as they used to for movies and music. The businesses need to adjust their own models and meet the consumers where they are now, rather than hope that they can ultimately fix the problems with the free exchange of copyrighted materials on the internet. It’s hard to compete with free. But it’s not impossible.

Envisional Estimates Infringing Use – by “Wesley W”

Piracy Report 2011

NBC Universal commissioned Envisional, a business specializing in protecting other businesses from fraud and piracy, to analyze bandwidth usage on the Internet. Their goal was to determine what percentage of that usage infringed upon copyright. The report was released in January 2011. The report studied global internet usage and internet usage in the United States.

Blame it on the P2P

The report estimated that p2p traffic accounted for most of the copyright infringement on the Internet traffic. Specifically Bittorrent is estimated to account for 18% of all Internet traffic and of that traffic 63.7% was infringing material. This suggests that 11.4% of the global Internet traffic was non-pornographic copyright infringement conducted through bittorrent.

The bittorrent traffic was followed by cyberlockers such as MegaUpload and RapidShare. The infringing content of cyberlockers were estimated to account for 5.1% of all internet traffic. Other forms of P2P file sharing like Gnutella, eDonkey and Usenet were estimated to contain mostly infringing content. 86.4% of the content was infringing and non-pornographic and totalled 5.8% of global Internet traffic. Video streaming brought up the rear with a measly 5.3% of all video’s being infringing totaling 1.4% of global internet traffic. As you can probably tell from the charts above the numbers for Internet usage in the United States is about the same.

Of Porn and Piracy

For the most part, the report excludes data on pornographic content because they had difficulty discerning the copyright status of the content. When the top 10,000 torrent links were investigated and sorted by type the report found that 35.8% was porn, 35.2% were films and 12.7% were television shows. The remaining 16.3% was a combination of software, PC games, music, console games, anime, sports, books/audiobook and unknown content. This confirms that bittorrent P2P is mostly used for copyright infringment and porn videos.

Pirates anyone?

While the majority of content on p2p networks was found to be infringing it was interesting to note that music was no longer the most pirated material on the Internet. The numbers and chart above were for global Internet usage but the numbers for just the U.S. are pretty similar. The whole report can be read here.

IP in an Aggregation Age – by “Ryan W”

Aggregators are on the rise. It’s really nothing new— Google search is an aggregator after all. However there there is an important distinction between a massive, comprehensive search like Google and the new breed of content aggregators that are popping up as the go-to ‘portals’ for media and genre-specific consumption. As this occurs, places like Metacritic, Google News or Hype Machine, and their somewhat shadier contemporaries SurftheChannel, and Movie2k are organizing, analyzing and sometimes generating a host of copyrighted content and in turn a host of conflicts with content creators.

Why go to the NY Times website to read movie reviews when you can go to Metacritic and read every review by every source, an averaged rating, and reader reviews all in one place? Ideological affinity  with Steven Holden. Narrow mindedness?  It seems natural to want as many points of view as possible in order to build the most informed opinion you can about a film. However, when does the interest of the provider of such an index come into conflict with the indexee? A search engine or an aggregator is a commercial technology, not an altruistic venture. What rights does the aggregator have when it comes to displaying copyrighted content? And what if that content is explicitly intended for unauthorized, illegal access be it downloading or streaming?

In 2006 AP sued Google news for displaying images, headlines and copy from its articles. Upon pulling their content from Google, AP CEO Tom Curly said “We will no longer tolerate the disconnect between people who devote themselves — at great human and economic cost, to gathering news of public interest and those who profit from it without supporting it.” Google and the AP struck a deal in 2007. It was also decided in 2006 that thumbnails created by search engines qualify as fair use.

Take another example: HypeMachine. For its first few Years HypeMachine aggregated MP3 files from music blogs en masse. All you had to do was search for an artist’s newly leaked album and you’d instantly be linked through to a number of sites providing a track or two (or sometimes more). Last year HypeMachine signed a deal with Sound Cloud to detect streaming sound cloud players in blog posts. Sound Cloud is a centralized site that artists can use to provide authorized streams of their tracks while tracking details analytics about listeners. This year it announced it’s up to 3 million users. The deal with Hype Machine posed Sound Cloud for a major expansion of it’s blogosphere presence. Together the two companies are forging new methods of online music consumption. A hugely popular aggregator paired with legal, data mining content distribution — an ethical music consumer’s dream? Plus, analytics and data mining enable charts, which enable music discovery. The downside is that I generally don’t get to add the mp3 files to my iTunes library, which is traditionally the end game of online music consumption.

Much murkier are streaming television and movie aggregations sites like SurftheChannel, SideReel and Movie2k. All of these sites are arguably generic technologies, protected by Safe Harbor status, that aggregate user submitted links to content that is hosted through a litany of file transfer services. However, SurftheChannel and Movie2k explicitly induce visitors to access copyright infringing content. Movie2k for instance has a section dedicated to ‘Cinema’ movies and often features handheld camera recordings of movies the day they are released. Unlike the landscape of music consumption, where supply and demand are much more equally abundant, demand for film is asymmetrically proportioned to a scarce supply of high production film. 3rd party file hosts such as MegaVideo deliberately incentivise piracy by paying 1500 dollars for every 1 million views of content uploaded to its services which are registered in Hong Kong. iTunes movie rentals and network hosted TV show streams interspersed with ads cannot effectively counter the instantaneous pirating of movies— especially after inducing and seducing the public into desiring them through extensive and often intrusive marketing campaigns. In this case, the proverbial hype machine of the film and television industry is in fact an engine for piracy which provides immediate access to content.

Aggregation is important because it creates a more relevant internet. Aggregation sites use the traditional mechanisms of search paired with analytics and social driven ranking and organization to display content that has meaning for the visitor beyond the externally-curated content dashboards of web 1.0 portals. However, the tools and filters for generating relevance have a tendency to take on a life of their own and a problematic position in relation to content creators. If the Hype Machine is any example of a collaborative solution, then it shows a need for ethical partnerships between aggregators and content providers — be it music bloggers, or file transfer websites.